Although I had nannied quite a bit before having children, I was definitely struck in the early days of motherhood by how much harder it was for me to simultaneously take care of a child and run a home than to do either one on its own. I could keep a perfect house like nobody’s business (I laugh when I think back to how clean our first apartment was!), and I had been an in-demand babysitter for a decade. The struggle was, and continues to be, how to balance caring for my kids and caring for my home. When I read to them all day, the house is a disaster zone. When I go on a cleaning or baking frenzy, the kids who are too little to help tend to feel neglected.
When I was pregnant with T, I used to go spend Tuesday mornings with my friend Kristin, who had a toddler and was already working on the mommy/homemaker balancing act. I was struck by her explanation that if she invested time with her daughter in the morning, J was happy to hang out for quite a while and play with herself while watching Mommy cook/clean/work on sewing projects for her home business. I’ve found this practice to be very helpful with my kids. A typical morning investment at our house looks like me sitting down after breakfast to read to the kids for half an hour instead of checking my email or cleaning the kitchen. After I’ve read a few books or chapters with the kiddos snuggled up next to me on the couch, I transition them to another activity—maybe the girls want to play in their play kitchen, or maybe everyone is inspired to color. While they’re occupying themselves, I can grab the time to finish washing up the breakfast dishes, shower (on a good day), get dressed, and maybe fold some laundry. Of course, I don’t neglect them for the rest of the day, but if I’m disciplined, I can get a lot done before they need me again.
On the days when I launch into my own list-of-things-to-do without spending some quality time with the kids, I find that they’re constantly following me around, demanding my attention. I’m annoyed that they’re needy, I respond poorly, they get upset, and I don’t actually accomplish much. I’ve been doing that too much lately, so I’m determined to rededicate myself to the morning investment this week. First on my list of things to do is “Read to the kids!!” Anyone care to join me?